Case study interview conducted with Emma Hadfield – Thomas Rotherham Learning Resources Manager and Paul Smith – Thomas Rotherham Learning Resources Officer
A modern Sixth Form College with high levels of academic success, Thomas Rotherham College is an exciting post-16 choice for young people from across Rotherham and the surrounding area. With around 1500 students, the college’s Learning Resources Centre aim is to meet the needs of their diverse range of students. The Resource Centre boasts an impressive collection of not just books, magazines, and audio-visual equipment but modern IT facilities and laptops available for all students to use.
When did you start to use laptops in the LRC at Thomas Rotherham College?
Emma – We started with laptops about eight or nine years ago and have manually issued them to our students for years. We started off with about six or seven laptops but because it’s the only place students can come to study independently, they wanted more, as they often prefer to use them rather than the PCs. I kept asking for more laptops but trying to manage them got out of hand. We then asked a carpenter to come in and build us this big cupboard to store them in, which was a bit rickety. We then had an electrician come in and put what seemed like hundreds of plug sockets behind it. We used that to manually issue laptops to students and then when they were returned to the desk, we would plug them back in and wait until they had charged again. There were about 60 laptops which meant we had all these wires intertwined everywhere and it really was a full-time job for the staff to manage. We needed to be on a rota just to be able to issue laptops!
Paul – At change over time at the end of lessons, students all came back at the same time, which meant we had about 40 laptops which had to be plugged in and left to charge. About ten minutes later students wanted them out again so they never got to a maximum charge. Also, the laptops were really old, so students would bring them back about 20 mins later for another charge. It was good that students were getting used to borrowing and using the laptops and the service was popular, but the manual loaning was time consuming and cumbersome.
What brought about the change to look at a self-service loaning system?
Emma - When I started here nine years ago, we had a team of five Learning Resources Officers we now have two! One of the ladies that used to work here full time was planning to retire in February 2018. I had already been informed that we couldn’t replace this position like for like, so the issue of loaning laptops was going to become a real problem as that was almost one person’s full-time job. I was told that I couldn’t have a full-time member of staff, so I looked into alternatives to manually loaning the laptops. The solution cost more than a full-time staff member but it was a one-off payment so the Finance Director at the time did some sums and saw that it certainly looked more cost effective in the long term. I wasn’t 100% happy with this analogy as I didn’t want it to look like I was replacing a member of staff with a machine, but it was a job that needed doing. It would serve its purpose and would mean that staff would then be free to do other things and spend more time assisting the students.
How did you choose the LapSafe® Diplomat LMS as your preferred product?
Emma – I had seen automated laptop loan systems in university libraries that I had visited. They seem quite prominent in HE, but we hadn’t yet seen them in colleges. I then came across an article in a library magazine that highlighted a sixth form college using self-service laptop loans. I then contacted the college directly to get more information. It was this that prompted me to look into automating our service further. I contacted LapSafe® and Jamie, the Account Manager, returned my call straight away and put us on to the team at Chesterfield College who were also using the product. Paul, myself and the IT Manager decided to visit Chesterfield College. I really wanted to ask the actual college rather than just a LapSafe sales person to find out if it really works for colleges, and does it really help. Following the visit, we decided It looked perfect for what we wanted, so we decided to go ahead and put a case forward for the system to the college financial team. We were so happy when it got approved.
We decided to down size from 40 old heavy laptops with old batteries and the wooden cupboard with plug sockets to 24 new Toshiba laptops and the self-service unit. Our students have ‘One Drive’ available to them to use, so their work is saved there and not on the laptops. All the devices are networked in the self-service lockers, which means we can update and clean them all at once.
How did the process run from order to delivery?
Emma - The order was placed with LapSafe® early summer of 2017 and it was pretty easy to be honest. We were asked questions about what we needed and required, and we planned a date for delivery. The delivery and the installation went lovely and smooth, we were so prepared beforehand. Everything was measured up and we had the electricians on standby to work with LapSafe® when it was installed. I made sure I asked in advance what was required and what was needed so I got it all ready. It was really great that we got to choose the colour of the unit too.
Paul - We did have a few problems on the day of installation, it should have taken half a day, but it ended up taking about a week! This was to do with the software not being compatible with our group policies. However, negotiations with our IT manager on security and manageability of the PC running LapSafe took place to resolve the problem. Since then IT don’t really have to have much to do with it. Heritage, our LMS provider, were really good with everything too and knew exactly what needed doing as they had successfully worked with LapSafe® many times before.
What has the feedback been from students regarding the new system?
Emma - We started the new term two to three weeks after it was installed, and we were worried that students wouldn’t understand what needed to be done and wondered what type of poster we should put up to explain what to do. But while we were thinking about it, the students just used their own initiative. They are used to using their student library cards for the printer in the LRC and I think they just knew to follow the instructions on the screen and started to use it. They are allowed to use the laptops for two hours and can only use them within the LRC. The students really love it as it means they all have the option to use a good quality laptop without having to own one and it encourages group and independent learning in the LRC. When we open our LRC suggestion box students have mentioned they would like more laptops available.
How has the support from LapSafe® been since installation?
Paul – The support and security side of it is great. We have it set up so the support team can remote into the Diplomat unit and Matt at LapSafe® has been brilliant. They are always ready to help solve a problem if there is one or answer questions. I always have the ‘Availability Dashboard’ app open on my PC, so it is really easy to see what’s charged and what’s available in the Diplomat unit to use. Matt has also mentioned some new things coming up in the future that will be handy for us on the availability side.
Would you recommend LapSafe® Diplomat LMS to other colleges?
Emma - Yes, we would definitely recommend it, as it does exactly what we wanted it to do with very little fuss or bother. It got rid of a terrible job that we had to do with manually issuing laptops via the rickety wooden unit behind the desk. We would welcome other colleges to visit us and see how it works. We really like to show it off as we are a small library service with a small budget in a 6th form college, and to get something like this is brilliant for us; it’s a great piece of kit. It is modern and has up to date technology that we can offer students. It also frees up a member of staff to have more time to communicate and help students. If you can find the budget for this, you won’t be disappointed.